19 October 2009

Searching for Inspiration

The last couple months have been crazy as I've rushed to finish projects for The World of Stitches exhibit and my local guild quilt show. Last Sunday, October 11th, I met the last of my deadlines and immediately found myself at loose ends. I sat on my couch that night and realized, with a shock, that I had nothing to work on.

After weeks of spending every free moment--and stealing moments from other commitments--finishing my projects, I found myself unburdened by deadlines. For weeks, these deadlines provided structure to my life and, without them, I felt lost. It was an empty feeling.

I wasn't sure what to do, but I didn't have time to dwell on it. I had to catch up on my backlog of studiously ignored chores and prepare for weekend company. A freak mid-October snowstorm canceled those plans and I decided to use the unexpected weekend to just hang out with Kevin.

That's not to say that the past week was completely bereft of creative activity.

Leslie Lacika spoke to my quilt guild about using non-traditional fabrics in quilts. Although I don't need much encouragement in that area--I love the challenges of combining fabrics like osnaburg, cottons, polyester, and even pleather--Leslie made the suggestion of using deconstructed garments from thrift stores.

I had never considered that, but immediately made plans to visit our local thrift store. I walked out with an armful of linen, wool, woven, and even some knit garments that I washed and dried without regard for the care tags. (Another brilliant suggestion from Leslie!) And then I spent an enjoyable Sunday afternoon deconstructing them. I'm excited by the palette I have and am sure to be inspired once I dive into the studio with them

I also missed my evening stitching projects. For the past couple months, I've done plenty of hand stitching while spending time with Kevin. So I excavated an 8-year old wallhanging (a Harmonic Convergence quilt begun in a Ricky Tims' class) that I had started machine quilting. I decided to use it as a practice piece to play with the interaction between hand stitching and the quilt design.

And I selected yarn colors for a crocheted afghan, which is another nightly stitching project.

Oddly enough, I'm missing those deadlines and the bursts of creative growth they inspired. Of course, there are natural cycles to everything--periods of intense growth followed by periods of rest and hibernation, but I can't help but miss that incredible sense of focus that I had.

Another busy week ahead means I'll only have a chance to putter around the edges of creativity, rather than having the opportunity to dive right in again. I'll have to take what time I can to play and create. I feel a need to keep the pump primed, so to speak, so that I can jump back in as soon as my life outside of art settles.

How have you dealt with finishing deadlines? Do you jump back into another commitment? Use the time to catch up on the rest of your life? Putter around until inspiration strikes? Sleep? I'd love to hear your strategies.

12 October 2009

On Inspiration, Deadlines, and Internet Friends

Inspiration is a lovely thing. What's more exciting than having a vision jump into your mind just begging to be created? It feels like a gift--one to be celebrated and realized, not ignored and squandered. When inspiration strikes, you have to act--it's as though you have no choice. It drives you to cast aside all the mundane realities of life and absorb yourself in a project.

This is a wonderful thing for your vision, but can wreck havoc on the rest of your life. If you are lucky, the people in your life understand and support you when you head off on one of this wild adventures of creation. I'm lucky to have such people--both in real life and on the internet.

Having such support is especially helpful because the thing about inspiration is, you can't plan for it. It happens at the oddest, perhaps even the most inconvenient times, and you are powerless in front of it.

Case in point: the quilt I delivered yesterday for exhibition in my local guild's quilt show. But, first a bit of background is needed to explain just how inconvenient these inspirations were.

In August, I was invited to participate in the exhibit A World of Stitches: Applique Art from Benin, Panama, and Pennsylvania. This was an exciting opportunity to display the 112 pieces I made over the course of my Early Morning Club project, but as you can imagine, required a bit of work to sew all 112 pieces to two panels of patio screening. My pieces were due on Thursday, September 10th.

I finished everything and delivered it on time, leading me to my next project, which was to create a challenge quilt for my guild. I had a vision in mind and didn't want to pass up the opportunity to create it. I worked hard the rest of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, finishing it thirty minutes before the deadline on Sunday. (I was so rushed that I did not have time to take a picture, but it was based on London Calling by The Clash and incorporates a picture I took in Piccadilly Circus in London.)

As I was driving to the meeting, inspiration struck: CREATE A QUILT OF THE LIFE PRESERVER PICTURE. I was gifted a full-fledged vision of another quilt, this one based on a photo of a solitary life preserver I took along the Mersey River in Liverpool. When I got to the meeting, I quickly sketched out my vision.

And then I did a crazy thing: I committed to have that quilt done by October 12th for submission into the guild's quilt show. This is on top of the other four quilts I submitted, of which on two were completed.

But my inspiration was so strong, my vision was so vivid, that I could not betray it by ignoring it and pretending that it didn't exist. Besides, I figured I had almost four weeks to get everything done. I warned my husband that I had visions to realize and that meals and house cleaning would be spare over the next few weeks.

When I got home, I sketched out a plan and decided to go after the low-hanging fruit. I had a a small piece that was designed and only needed to be pieced and quilted. So over the course of a few days I finished Primary Fragments.

Then I began work on the second incomplete piece, Megalith #1. This piece took almost three weeks of almost constant work. I heavily stitched it with perle cotton and embroidery floss and added some beads. Each part is an individual piece that I then stitched together.

Then, with five days to go, I began to work on Safe Along the Mersey, which was the inspiration I was gifted with that afternoon. Because the image was so vivid, the design and piecing went pretty quickly. I wasn't entirely certain how I would stitch it. So inspiration struck again, while sitting in my car at the gas station on Friday night: ADD TRANSLUCENT RINGS OF ORANGE. (Why do so many inspirations happen in the car?)

My new, inspired vision had translucent rings of orange and rust overlapping the pieced design. I initially thought of hand stitching them, much as I did with Megalith #1, but I, given it was Friday night and the piece was due Sunday afternoon, that wasn't going to happen.

Then, like a thunderbolt from the sky it struck me: USE ORANGE SHEERS! We were two minutes away from a chain fabric store so we detoured there and I raced in, searching out ORANGE SHEERS. It felt like an episode of Project Runway.

I made it through each aisle with no luck. In the last aisle, I found a white polyester mesh that would work if it were orange. Then another thought struck: YOU CAN DYE FABRIC ORANGE! That necessitated another run through the store looking for a dyeable mesh or sheer fabric. No luck.

I wandered over to check the dyes out anyway and received my final inspiration: DYE CHEESECLOTH ORANGE! Eureka! Thank you Mister Muse. I headed out the door with two colors of orange dyes and 6 yards of cheesecloth. Even though I had never dyed before, this seemed like the perfect solution.

Saturday morning I wake up and commandeer the guest bathroom for dyeing purposes. I line up my bowls, measure out salt and dye, and immerse the cheesecloth in the dye baths. I stir a bit and leave them.

After the recommended 45 minutes I return and remove the cheesecloth from the dyebaths. They are absolutely gorgeous and gave me the chills.

I start rinsing them. And rinse them. And rinse them some more. The dye keeps bleeding. So I rinse more. More bleeding. Finally the water appears clear, but when I put them out to dry, they dye the paper towels orange.

Fortunately here I had a fabulous inspiration: ASK THE QUILT ART MAILING LIST! For a couple years now I have been mostly lurking on this fantastic email list of art quilters. I have learned so much from them. The few times I have asked for help, I have been inundated with thoughtful, helpful replies.

So I headed to my laptop and sent my plea, titled "Quick deadline-pressed question about dyeing and bleeding", into the ether. Almost immediately I began receiving helpful replies with great suggestions. I followed their advice and was able to stop the bleeding.

All day and night Saturday I stitched the sheers to the quilt. On Sunday, I faced it and put a sleeve on it. I felt like a champion because I finished Safe Along the Mersey with four hours to spare.

So with all of that, I'm pretty happy. I've been working hard over the past couple months preparing for both shows. I had forgotten how good it feels to set challenging goals and then meet them. And much of it is thanks to the people in my life and in my internet life who are there for me when inspiration strikes.